27 Types of Conflict

conflict types

What is Organizational Conflict?

The organizational conflict begins when one group senses that another group has or is about to do something negative to the first group. The most common thought about conflict is that the idea is a perception of individual persons. If no one is aware of a conflict, then it is usually agreed no conflict exists.

Also needed to begin the conflict processes are opposition or incompatibility and some form of interaction. The reason behind the conflict is miscommunication between individuals concerning their needs, ideas, beliefs, goals, or values of theirs.

Conflict can be defined as a process that begins when one party senses that another party has or is about to affect something negatively that the first party cares about. Conflict transpires whenever disagreements exist in a social situation over matters of substance or whenever emotional antagonisms create friction between individuals or groups.

Conflict shows a struggle or contest between people with opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, values, or goals. The conflict might escalate to nonproductive results or can be positively resolved and lead to final quality products.

Common Causes of Organizational Conflicts

Conflicts can occur because of the task, relationship, or process-related issues between personnel. These conflicts can occur because of task, relationship, or process-related issues. Conflicts within organizations can arise due to various reasons.

  1. Disagreements on Benefits: Firstly, disagreements can arise when there are different needs or interests among employees, such as when decisions about employee benefits based on seniority are challenged by those favoring performance-based benefits.
  2. Behavioral Incompatibilities: Secondly, incompatibility in behavioral expectations can breed conflict. For instance, when a mid-level manager makes a mistake, an overly harsh response from the boss can exacerbate tensions.
  3. Rivalry Over Roles: Thirdly, rivalry can be fostered in situations where there is limited availability of desired roles, like promoting only one of two qualified Deputy Managing Directors to Managing Director.
  4. Clashes of Attitudes and Values: Fourthly, disputes can arise due to clashes in personal attitudes, values, and perceptions, such as when workplace behaviors deemed acceptable by one are viewed as inappropriate by another.
  5. Exclusive Actions: Fifthly, exclusive behavior in joint actions can lead to blame and conflict, especially if the exclusive action fails.
  6. Departmental Misalignment: Finally, interdependent departments can experience conflict when expectations are misaligned, like when the Marketing department creates demand that the Production department cannot meet, or vice versa.

4 Types of Organizational Conflict

4 Types of Organizational Conflict

Organizational Conflict can be classified in 4 ways.

  1. Intra-individual/Intra-personal Conflict.
  2. Interpersonal conflict.
  3. Intra-group Conflict.
  4. Inter-group conflict.

What is Conflict?

Before going any further, let us first briefly describe what conflict is. There are actually a lot of ways to define conflict due to how it is used in many areas. Hence, to keep it simple for the layman, conflict pertains to the opposing ideas and actions of different entities, thus resulting in an antagonistic state.

Conflict is an inevitable part of life. Each of us has our own opinions, ideas, and beliefs. We have our own ways of looking at things and acting according to what we think is proper.

Hence, we often find ourselves in conflict in different scenarios, may it involve other individuals, groups of people, or a struggle within ourselves. Consequently, conflict influences our actions and decisions in one way or another.

Intra-individual/Intra-personal Conflict

Conflict can be intra-personal, where an individual’s objective and vision differ from his/her company’s overall vision. This refers to a conflict within an individual.

Intra-individual conflict arises from frustration, numerous roles that demand equal attention but are always possible to devote, and goals with negative and positive aspects.

Intrapersonal Occurs within an individual. The experience takes place in a person’s mind.

Hence, it is a type of conflict that is psychological, involving the individual’s thoughts, values, principles, and emotions.

Three types of Intra-individual/Intra-personal Conflict are;

  1. Goal conflict,
  2. Conflict from frustration, and
  3. Role conflict.

Goal conflict

Another common source of conflict for an individual is a goal that has both positive and negative features or two or more competing goals. Goal conflict is more complex than conflict from frustration. Goal conflict occurs when the attainment of one goal excludes the possibility of attaining another.

Three major forms of goal conflict may be distinguished:

  1. Approach-approach conflict, where the individual is motivated to approach two or more positive but mutually exclusive goals.
  2. Approach-avoidance conflict, Where the individual is motivated to approach a goal and at the same time is motivated to avoid it. The single goal contains both positive and negative characteristics for the individual.
  3. Avoidance-avoidance conflict, where the individual is motivated to avoid two or more negative but mutually exclusive goals.

Conflict from frustration

frustration occurs when a motivated drive is blocked before a person reaches the desired goal.

The following figure illustrates the way frustration occurs:

Conflict from frustration

An individual driven by an inner state of deficiency engages himself in some actions to fulfill the deficiency.

But his attempts to reach the goal are checked by barriers which may be overt (external) or covert (internal). External barriers include floods, power failures, and the breakdown of transportation.

These are non-social. There are external barriers that are social-they are parents forcing a child to sit on the toilet, making him refrain from the cartoon, making him stay in the room, or denying him the pleasure of watching television. Internal barriers are personal limitations and disabilities which thwart one’s aspirations.

Weaknesses, physical deformities, lack of skill, or low intelligence may hinder achievement. Internal barriers are more lasting than external ones.

The frustrated individuals adopt any of four defense mechanisms: aggression, withdrawal, fixation, or compromise.

Aggression refers to the attack of the barrier, physical or symbolic. Withdrawal refers to backing away from the barrier.

Fixation refers to the continuation of efforts to break the barrier. Compromise refers to the search for a new goal.

Conflict occurs in all defense mechanism situations.

Role conflict

The final reason for the intra-personal conflict is the need for an individual to play several roles simultaneously but find the time and resources inadequate to do so.

For example, it is not uncommon for an adult middle-class male to be simultaneously playing the roles of husband, father, son to elderly parents, worker or manager, student (evening MBA program), member of a social club, coach of a little league baseball team, bridge partner, poker club member, officer of a community group, and weekend golfer.

Women, of course, also have numerous, often conflicting roles.

Although all the roles that men and women bring into the organization are relevant to their behavior, the organizational role is the most important in the study of organizational behavior.

Roles such as digital equipment operator, clerk, team leader, salesperson, engineer, systems analyst, department head, vice president, and board chairperson often carry conflicting demands and expectations.

Recent research shows that such conflict can harm well-being and performance and may be affected by cultural difference.

There are 3 major types of role conflict.

  1. One type is the conflict between the person and the role. There may be a conflict between the person’s personality and the expectations of the role.
  2. A second type is an intra-role conflict created by contradictory expectations about how a given role should be played.
  3. Finally, inter-role conflict results from the differing requirements of two or more roles that must be played at the same time. Work roles and nonwork roles are often in such conflict.

Inter-personal conflict

The most basic type of conflict is inter-personal. It is between two colleagues – arising from a host of reasons ranging from differences in personality, work style, and personal background.

Conflict at the inter-personal level involves two or more individuals and is the most common and most recognized type of conflict.

In a way, all conflicts are interpersonal because most involve a conflict between a person in one organization or a group and another person in another organization or a group.

Every individual has a separate alternative course of action that is acceptable to him and different individuals prefer different alternatives.

Sometimes the organizations also create such circumstances that two individuals find themselves in a situation of conflict.

For example, two managers could be competing for limited capital or manpower resources. The other type of conflict is disagreement over the goals and objectives of the organization.

4 primary sources of interpersonal conflict are;

  1. Personal Differences,
  2. Lack of Information,
  3. Role in Compatibility, and
  4. Environmental Stress.

Personal Differences

This can be a major source of conflict between individuals.

Due to the difference in upbringing, culture, education, experience, values, traditions, and the family background of the individuals, interpersonal conflict could arise.

Lack of Information

Another cause of inter-personal conflict could be a lack of information. This information deficiency is often a result of communication breakdown in an organization.

Role in Compatibility

Role incompatibility could also be a source of conflict as in present-day inter-functional organizations’ many managers are assigned tasks which are interdependent, and the individual roles of these managers may be incompatible.

Environmental Stress

Environmental stress in an organization can also cause inter-personal conflict.

Such stress is caused by a lack of resources, downsizing, competitive pressures, and a high level of uncertainty among the employees of the organization.

The inter-personal conflicts usually get resolved by themselves because the parties in conflict are not in a position to remain in a conflict for a long time. Time itself becomes a healing factor for interpersonal conflicts.

In the case of persisting inter-personal conflicts, these can be resolved with the help of counseling, effective communication, and win-win negotiation.

The management should look for the basic reason behind conflicts and try to resolve them quickly so that an atmosphere of mutual trust and openness can be created and maintained in the organization.

Intra-group Conflict

When an individual is pitted against a group and is either unwilling or unable to conform to group dynamics, he or she invariably leaves the team due to intra-group conflict.

It is a type of conflict that happens among individuals within a team. The incompatibilities and misunderstandings among these individuals lead to an intra-group conflict!

It arises from interpersonal disagreements or differences in views and ideas.

Types of conflicts are different, and their impacts are also different.

Inter-group conflict

When the conflict is inter-group, two teams are involved in a deadlock, endangering the successful completion of a project due to differences in group dynamics.

Organizational conflict is the discord that arises when the goals, interests, or values of different individuals or groups are incompatible, and those individuals or groups block or thwart one another’s attempts to achieve their objective.

In addition to interpersonal conflict, social psychologists have been concerned about intergroup conflict for several years. Intergroup behavior is even specifically identified as follows;

“Intergroup behavior occurs whenever individuals belonging to one group interact, collectively or individually, with another group or its members in terms of their reference group identification.

Several antecedent conditions have been identified for explaining intergroup conflict.

The reasons behind the inter-group conflict are;

  • Competition for Resources.
  • Task Interdependence.
  • Jurisdictional Ambiguity.
  • Status Struggles.

These can be summarized as follows;

Competition for Resources

Most organizations today have very limited resources. Groups within the organization compete for budget funds, space, supplies, personnel, and support services.

Task Interdependence

If two groups in the organization depend on one another in a mutual or even a one-way direction, there tends to be more conflict than if groups are independent.

The more diverse the interdependent groups’ objectives, priorities, and personnel (for example, research and production), the more conflict there tends to be.

Jurisdictional Ambiguity

This may involve “turf” problems or overlapping responsibilities.

For example, conflict might occur when one group attempts to assume more control, take credit for desirable activities, or give up its part and any responsibility for undesirable activities.

Status Struggles

This conflict occurs when one group attempts to improve its status and another group views this as a threat to its place m the status hierarchy.

One group may also feel it is being inequitably treated in comparison with another group of equal status in terms of rewards, job assignments, working conditions, privileges, or status symbols.

Human resources departments justifiably often feel they are treated inequitably with marketing, finance, and operations departments.

Recent research shows that such groups in conflict change internally and in their intergroup perceptions.

For example, one study of 70 top management teams found internally that the degree of trust moderated the relationship between task conflict (the perception of disagreements about decisions made by the group) and relationship conflict (an emotional perception of interpersonal incompatibility).

Another study found that lew intragroup cohesiveness and negative relationships across groups were significantly related to higher perceptions of intergroup conflict.

Overall most experts today emphasize the importance of making a cost-benefit analysis of the conflict situation at any level and then setting up dispute resolution systems.

And, most recently, setting up systems through advanced information technology that eliminate conflict inherent in traditional (hierarchical and functional specializations) organization designs.

Intra-organizational conflict

It is an umbrella term for any type of conflict that takes place within one organization.

Inter-organizational conflict

It occurs between different organizations, such as between two competing firms in an industry.

Functional Conflict

Functional conflict is healthy, constructive disagreement between groups or individuals. The conflict that supports a group’s goals and improves its performance is known as a functional or a positive conflict.

Functional conflict is helpful in the achievement of the goals of a group. Positive results of functional conflict include:

  • Awareness of both sides of issues.
  • Improvement of working conditions due to accomplishing solutions together.
  • Solving issues together to improve overall morale.
  • Making innovations and improvements within an organization.

Conflict in organizations can be a positive force.

Functional conflict is understood as the creation or resolution of conflict that often leads to constructive problem-solving, improving the quality of decisions, stimulating involvement in the discussion, and building group cohesion. It can be introduced in the form of dissenting opinions to counter groupthink.

This will result in the clarification of important problems and the defining and sharpening of the issues as well. It will also provide more diagnostic information that can generate cues for better organization and management to prevent the occurrence of similar problems in the future.

Evidently, this process helps individuals develop the understanding, skills, and intellect needed to avoid organizational collapse.

Of course, the introduction of conflict motivates individuals to perform better and work harder. It satisfies certain psychological needs like dominance, aggression, esteem, and ego, thereby providing an opportunity for constructive use and release of aggressive urges.

In some cases, it facilitates an understanding of the problem, people, and interrelationships that exist within them.

Within a group, conflict may define, maintain, and strengthen group boundaries, contributing to the group’s distinctiveness and increasing group solidarity and cohesion.

Many a time, it leads to alliances with other groups, creating bonds between loosely structured groups or bringing together different individuals and groups in a community to fight a common threat.

The outcomes of managing conflict in a functional way are as follows:

  • Conflict may stimulate innovations and creativity.
  • Organizational decision-making may be improved.
  • Alternative solutions to the problem may be found.
  • Conflict may lead you from synergetic solutions to common problems.
  • Individual and group performance may be enhanced.
  • Individuals and groups may be forced to reach for new approaches.
  • Individuals and groups may be required to articulate and clarify their positions.

Dysfunctional Conflict

Dysfunctional conflict is an unhealthy disagreement that occurs between groups or individuals.

The conflict which obstructs the achievement of the goals of a group is called a dysfunctional or destructive conflict. Negative results of dysfunctional conflict include:

  • Individuals use threats, verbal abuse, and deception, which destroy relationships
  • Both parties can end up losing in this type of conflict
  • This type of conflict can lead to retaliation and further acts of negativity.

Dysfunctional conflict can be understood as an undesirable experience that is to be avoided [24].

It has serious negative effects. It creates difficulties in communication between individuals, breaks personal and professional relationships, and reduces effectiveness by causing tension, anxiety, and stress.

Intense conflicts over a prolonged period affect individuals emotionally and physically, and this gives rise to psychosomatic disorders and, in some cases, a total breakdown of rules, undermining morale or the self-concept of human existence.

The various types of responses to conflict are;

  1. Avoidance
    • Hide
    • Ignore
  2. Diffusion
    • Postpone
    • Wait
  3. Disagreement
    • Violent
      • Physical
      • Psychological
      • Verbal
      • Intimidation
    • Nonviolent
      • Discussed feelings
      • Hear other persons point of view
      • agreed to disagree
      • collaborate

The outcomes of managing conflict in a dysfunctional way are given below:

  • Conflict may cause job stress and dissatisfaction.
  • Communication between individuals and groups may be reduced.
  • A climate of distrust and suspicion can be developed.
  • Relationships may be damaged.
  • Job performance may be reduced.
  • Resistance to change can be increased.
  • Organizational commitment and loyalty may be affected.

Task conflict

Task conflict relates to the content and goals of the work.

Relationship conflict

Relationship conflict focuses on interpersonal relationships.

Process conflict

Process conflict relates to how the work gets done. Studies demonstrate that relationship conflicts are almost always dysfunctional.

Vertical conflict

It occurs between hierarchical levels, say between management and employees.

Horizontal conflict

Horizontal conflict takes place between different individuals, groups, or departments at the Same hierarchical level say, between two competing departments that have similar power and authority in different areas.

Resource scarcity conflicts

It is a common type of conflict in organizations and takes place where resources are scarce, such as during financial constraints or even if office space is limited, creating conflicts between individuals, teams, and departments.

Role conflict

Role conflict is about expectations of tasks, primarily when they are not communicated effectively or the communication given is not received effectively.

Goal Conflict

Conflict arises when an individual selects or is assigned goals that are incompatible with each other. Goal incompatibility refers to the extent to which an individual’s or group’s goals are at odds.

For example, a student may set goals of earning $4200 a week and achieving an 8-grade point average (on a 10-point system) while being enrolled full-time during the coming semester.

The student may then face inner conflict because of the difficulty in achieving the grade point average that he had targeted (i.e., eight) and the money he wanted to earn.

Here, the two goals are earning $4200 and achieving an eighth-grade point. They are incompatible goals, taking into consideration the time factor for an average student.

Several types of goal conflicts have been identified. It can occur when an externally imposed goal conflicts with one’s personal goal; when people are asked to achieve multiple outcomes (e.g., meeting a quantity quota while not making any mistake) while performing a single task, or when there is a trade-off between several types of tasks or outcomes when multiple goals or tasks exist (e.g., devoting time to sell product A and product B in a limited period of time).

These situations may give rise to conflict.

Affective Conflict

It can be explained as the incompatible feelings and emotions within the individual or between individuals. Interpersonal conflicts, as well as antagonism between groups, are examples of affective conflict. It can be understood as emotional, social, and personal conflict.

Most affective conflict is focused on personalized anger or resentment, usually directed at specific individuals rather than specific ideas.

It comes from the perception that one is being attacked or criticized. It provokes hostility, distrust, cynicism, and apathy among individual/team members, thereby obstructing open communication and interaction.

The causes of affective conflict may be equity (fairness), dissatisfaction with social needs (such as needs for inclusion, control, and affection), emotional states, and perceptions.

This form of conflict can be visible or hidden and serves to consume valuable energy or block the ability of the individual/group to conduct its work. Low-performing teams are often crippled by affective conflict. It lowers individual/team effectiveness. Its effects can be seen in poor decision quality, lower productivity, and less creativity.

Cognitive Conflict

It occurs when ideas and thoughts within an individual or between individuals are incompatible. The effects of cognitive conflict are mainly positive, like better decision quality, higher productivity, and more creativity.

Successful teams use a variety of techniques that help them keep ideas separated from people. A hallmark of high-performing teams is their ability to critically consider and evaluate ideas.

Procedural Conflict

Procedural conflict exists when group members disagree about the procedures to be followed in accomplishing the group goal. Union-management negotiations often involve procedural conflicts before the negotiations actually begin.

The parties may have procedural conflicts over who will be involved in the negotiations, where they will take place, and when sessions will be held (and how long they will last).

After negotiations have been concluded, different interpretations about how a grievance system is to operate provide another example of how procedures can be formulated, a new agenda can be suggested, or the group goal can be modified. Procedural conflict can be productive.

Substantive/Important/Serious Conflict

This occurs when two or more organizational members disagree on their task or content issues (Guetzkow & Gyr, 1954).

This type of conflict has also been labeled task conflict (Eisenhardt et al., 1997; Jehn, 1997a; Pelted et al., 1999), cognitive conflict (Amason, 1996; Cosier & Rose, 1977; Holzworth, 1983), and issue conflict (Hammer & Organ, 1978). Jehn (1997b) characterized this type of conflict as “disagreements among group members’ ideas and opinions about the task being performed, such as disagreement regarding an organization’s current strategic position or determining the correct data to include in a report” (Jehn, 1997b).

It is appropriate to distinguish between substantive and affective conflicts. Whereas affective conflict is concerned with the feelings or emotions of the conflicting parties, substantive conflict is associated with the task or other business-related issues involved in such a situation. Substantive conflict may be of the following types:

Realistic Conflict

This refers to incompatibilities that have rational content (i.e., tasks, goals, values, and ends). Realistic conflict is associated with “mostly rational or goal-oriented” disagreement, and unrealistic conflict “is an end in itself having little to do with group or organizational goals” (Ross & Ross, 1989).

Conflict of Interest

This is defined as an inconsistency between two parties in their preferences for the allocation of a scarce resource.

This type of conflict occurs “when each party, sharing the same understanding of the situation, prefers a different and somewhat incompatible solution to a problem involving either a distribution of scarce resources between them or a decision to share the work of solving it” (Druckman & Zechmeister, 1973). The contention of managers A and B for the same vice president’s job exemplifies/demonstrates a conflict of interests.

Conflict of Values

This occurs when two social entities differ in their values or ideologies on certain issues (Druckman, Broome, & Korper, 1988).

This is also called ideological conflict. The ideological disagreement of supervisors A and B on the question of “compensatory hiring” is an example of value conflict. Conflict between pro-life and pro-choice groups in connection with abortion is another example of a conflict of values.

Institutionalized versus Non-institutionalized Conflict

Such conflict is characterized by situations in which actors follow explicit/open rules and display predictable behavior, and their relationship has continuity, as in the case of line-staff conflict or labor-management negotiations.

Most racial conflict is non-institutionalized, where three conditions, such as (i) actors follow explicit rules, (ii) display predictable behavior, and (iii) their relationship has continuity are nonexistent.

Retributive Conflict

This type of conflict is characterized by a situation where the conflicting entities feel the need for a drawn-out conflict to punish the opponent.

In other words, each party determines its gains, in part, by incurring costs to the other party (Saaly, 1990). An officer of a bank did not show proper respect to his manager. \

So, the manager wants to punish him. The next day, the manager asked him to submit all his file works for checking. The manager went through all his files and found some wrong and then punished him.

Misattributed Conflict

This relates to the incorrect assignment of causes (behaviors or issues) to conflict (Deutsch, 1977). For example, a supervisor is punished for his subordinate misbehaves with him. Another example a teacher gave punishment to all students in the class, though only one student did unexpected behavior.

Displaced Conflict

This type of conflict occurs when the conflicting parties either direct their frustrations or hostilities to social entities who are not involved in conflict or argue over secondary, not major issues (Deutsch, 1977). For example, Mrs. Y is angry with Mr. X but she showed anger to Mr. Z.

On the basis of functions, conflicts are figures show the functional and dysfunctional conflicts and their impact on performance:

27 Types of Conflict

On the basis of task, relationship, and process, conflicts can be classified into three types. Those are as follows:

  1. Task Conflict: Conflicts over content and goals of the work.
  2. Relationship Conflict: Conflicts based on interpersonal relationships.
  3. Process Conflict: Conflicts over how work gets done.